top of page

The Ethics of International Sport

On first consideration, there appears to be a tenuous connection between human rights, ethics, and sport. Since the 20th century, the understanding of, and protection afforded by, human rights has developed significantly. As a result, the overlap between the sport and human rights has become much more apparent, particularly in recent events. The connection between ethics and sport also becomes clearer upon close examination. This article will focus on the: 2014 FIFA World Cup hosted in Brazil, 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia and the future 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. This article intends to illustrate the numerous problems arising from these events and the need for FIFA to rethink its strategy.

2014 World Cup, Brazil

When FIFA (Football’s governing body) awarded the privilege of hosting the 2014 World Cup to Brazil, their decision was subject to much criticism. Many of these problems have been highlighted by John Oliver of Last Week Tonight. (Episode 1 and Episode 2)

There were many problematic aspects of the decision, although these concerns were compounded in the practical preparations for the event. This began with protests by Brazilian citizens living in ‘Favelas’ (typically, a slum on the outskirts of large cities) against Brazil hosting the World Cup. Part of the motivation behind these protests was the money being used at the expense of education and health in Brazil, as many schools and hospitals were in substandard conditions. A total of $11 billion was spent by the Brazilian government in preparation of this event; one can only imagine how such a significant amount of funding could have been used for the improvement public services. These protests continued right up until June 2014, just before the start of the World Cup. This revelation in turn raises questions over the ethicality of the decision by FIFA to award the 2014 World Cup to Brazil. The lavish spending and the grandeur of the stadiums that were built for the 2014 World Cup stood in stark contrast to the poverty that was rife in Brazil. Of course, there are arguments supporting inclusion of developing countries, although there comes a point where the tradeoff becomes too one-sided. This issue regarding spend could have been addressed by awarding the World Cup to several South American countries, who could then split the costs between them.

There are arguments that the country of Brazil made a profit from this event. However, this is factually incorrect: it is FIFA who gained from the event being held. FIFA is exempt from any imposition of tax at any level. In the case of Brazil, FIFA was able to avoid $250 million in terms of taxation. FIFA denies these assertions. However, it has been proven that the relevant law that was passed by the Brazil Congress (Law Project 7422/2010) discriminated in favour of FIFA. This piece of legislation allowed FIFA to be exempt from any tax and it shifted liability for taxation towards Brazilian companies who made a profit and were not permanently associated with FIFA. This in turn, is quite damning for Brazilian citizens; they are liable to cover the shortfall of this exemption by being taxed a higher amount. When considering the issues that were already present in Brazil, it is hard to imagine how the award of hosting the 2014 World Cup could be deemed ‘ethical’.

The power of FIFA over the political sphere in Brazil was, and remains, of substantial concern. Namely, FIFA was able to force a change in Brazilian law, namely the consumption of alcohol in stadiums. Budweiser remains a sponsor of FIFA and was a sponsor at the material time of the 2014 World Cup. FIFA was able to pass a law which permitted the sale of alcohol in stadiums, thus promoting the interests of its sponsors over the public interest. It should be noted that the conduct of FIFA’s General Secretary, Jerome Valcke, did not invite any form of negotiation: it was a demand. Previously, the Brazilian Congress removed alcohol from football stadiums on public safety grounds. This occurred in 2003. Such a reversal highlights significant issues over democracy, one can only worry about the extent to which private actors have been able to influence public policy. This decision was met by significant criticism from many organisations in Brazil and was generally an unfavourable amendment. This example, again, causes concern over whether such decisions were ethical: FIFA could be seen to be holding Brazil to ransom.

There were also huge social costs for the citizens of Brazil. These included the destruction of Favelas and the use of ‘Death Squads’ to remove the homeless. The non-governmental organisation, Human Rights Watch, strongly condemned the use of such police force. It was argued that law enforcement were committing unlawful killings and using extensive use of force in clearing the favelas. As a result of this action, thousands of citizens were forced to relocate to housing projects many miles away, but with little means of getting there. This highlights the Brazilian authorities’ sheer disregard of the needs of its citizens. Such a move can be seen to be completely against international human rights norms.

Even after the event had finished, there was room for further criticism. After spending $11 billion in preparation for the World Cup and the destruction of Brazilian citizens’ homes, the stadiums that lay in their place stood empty and unused. A prime example is that of Manaus, which was used for 4 world cup games. The local team has nowhere near enough of a following to fill the stadium, which means that Brazil will not be able to recoup the costs of developing and building the stadium. This phenomenon is not limited to Manaus; notable examples also include: Brasilia, Natal and Cuiaba. Again, this raises concerns over how appropriate it was to host a World Cup where public services are in dire need of support from its government.

2018 World Cup, Russia

The World Cup was hosted by Russia in 2018. This particular event was especially problematic for two reasons: the lack of concern afforded to workers’ rights and pervasive discrimination and violence against the LGBT community. There were of course other problems, such as: dismantling any form of checks and balances on government power, significant internet restrictions, rising government interference with privacy online and attacks against journalists. Owing to the length of this article, these issues are not going to be explored in their totality.

There were concerns over workers’ rights in Russia; FIFA went as far to admit that there were human rights abuses in the build-up to this event. The issues in Russia have been well documented by the Human Rights Watch. The situation was described as ‘slave like’ by the United Nations. This included the prospect of being dismissed without pay if complaints were made by employees and a lack of safety equipment. Arguably, FIFA has a duty to step in and to ensure such behaviour is not tolerated. Unfortunately, it seems that the interests of FIFA appear to be only commercial and very little is being done on the social rights front. The Human Rights Watch confirmed that nothing had changed in Russia following their reports to Russian authorities.

Unashamedly, FIFA did very little, if anything, to address the discrimination against the LGBT community. This in turn, prompted well-founded fears that members of the LGBT community would be at risk. This is especially the case following enactment of the “Gay Propaganda” Law (Federal Law No. 135-FZ, article 3.2(b)) which permits discrimination against the LGBT Community. Instantly, one can see that the 2018 event did not permit everyone’s participation in a fair manner. To exclude the LGBT community in this way is highly unethical and a gross violation of human rights at both the European and International levels. Even in 2019, there are issues around the murder and persecution of members of the LGBT community, which is indicative of the fact that Russia has failed to address this matter in any way, shape or form. This concern is also shared with the award of the 2022 World Cup; there are questions as to whether LGBT fans would be welcome to Qatar during the event.

2022 World Cup, Qatar

The 2022 World Cup, which is due to be held in Qatar, sparked further controversy following the inaction of Brazil and Russia. This section will be the briefest as there is still a significant amount of time before the event; any updates will be reported on in subsequent articles.

Historically speaking, Qatar has an appalling human rights record. Much like Russia, there is a lack of employee protection: it is estimated that there will be 4,000 deaths in the building process before the World Cup kicks off in 2022. It has been argued that the conditions are ‘inherently unsafe’ in Qatar, following the death of a British worker. There are further concerns of control over migrant workers: employers hold the passports of migrant workers. As a result, these individuals are not permitted to leave Qatar unless they are given express permission to do so. Essentially, they are trapped. These issues have been highlighted by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). These policies are in complete contradiction to fundamental freedoms. It would be apparent that there are ethical issues regarding this event too. Fortunately, the ITUC has been able to make progress in offering to create a FIFA joint inspection on the working conditions in Qatar.

There is also a movement that is requesting re-running the vote for the 2022 World Cup. Whether this request is acted upon remains to be seen, although it is unlikely that FIFA would be swayed by such considerations based on previous events. It is apparent from these three case studies that there is, however, some need for FIFA to change its approach and to act more ethically.

Related Posts

See All
Who's Behind The Blog?
Search By Tags
Follow Newell Legal
  • Facebook Basic Black
  • Twitter Basic Black

Join our mailing list

Never miss an update

Related Posts

bottom of page